Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 128 of 165

“I can see we’re starting to understand each other, Professor,” Captain Nemo told me with a half smile. “You already glimpse the potential—myself, I’d say the success—of this attempt. Maneuvers that aren’t feasible for an ordinary ship are easy for the Nautilus. If a continent emerges at the pole, we’ll stop at that continent. But on the other hand, if open sea washes the pole, we’ll go to that very place!”

“Right,” I said, carried away by the captain’s logic. “Even though the surface of the sea has solidified into ice, its lower strata are still open, thanks to that divine justice that puts the maximum density of salt water one degree above its freezing point. And if I’m not mistaken, the submerged part of this Ice Bank is in a four–to–one ratio to its emerging part.”

“Very nearly, Professor. For each foot of iceberg above the sea, there are three more below. Now then, since these ice mountains don’t exceed a height of 100 meters, they sink only to a depth of 300 meters. And what are 300 meters to the Nautilus?”

“A mere nothing, sir.”

“We could even go to greater depths and find that temperature layer common to all ocean water, and there we’d brave with impunity the –30° or –40° cold on the surface.”

“True, sir, very true,” I replied with growing excitement.

“Our sole difficulty,” Captain Nemo went on, “lies in our staying submerged for several days without renewing our air supply.”

“That’s all?” I answered. “The Nautilus has huge air tanks; we’ll fill them up and they’ll supply all the oxygen we need.”

“Good thinking, Professor Aronnax,” the captain replied with a smile. “But since I don’t want to be accused of foolhardiness, I’m giving you all my objections in advance.”

“You have more?”

“Just one. If a sea exists at the South Pole, it’s possible this sea may be completely frozen over, so we couldn’t come up to the surface!”

“My dear sir, have you forgotten that the Nautilus is armed with a fearsome spur? Couldn’t it be launched diagonally against those tracts of ice, which would break open from the impact?”

“Ah, Professor, you’re full of ideas today!”

“Besides, Captain,” I added with still greater enthusiasm, “why wouldn’t we find open sea at the South Pole just as at the North Pole? The cold–temperature poles and the geographical poles don’t coincide in either the northern or southern hemispheres, and until proof to the contrary, we can assume these two spots on the earth feature either a continent or an ice–free ocean.”

“I think as you do, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo replied. “I’ll only point out that after raising so many objections against my plan, you’re now crushing me under arguments in its favor.”

Captain Nemo was right. I was outdoing him in daring! It was I who was sweeping him to the pole. I was leading the way, I was out in front . . . but no, you silly fool! Captain Nemo already knew the pros and cons of this question, and it amused him to see you flying off into impossible fantasies!

Nevertheless, he didn’t waste an instant. At his signal, the chief officer appeared. The two men held a quick exchange in their incomprehensible language, and either the chief officer had been alerted previously or he found the plan feasible, because he showed no surprise.

But as unemotional as he was, he couldn’t have been more impeccably emotionless than Conseil when I told the fine lad our intention of pushing on to the South Pole. He greeted my announcement with the usual “As Master wishes,” and I had to be content with that. As for Ned Land, no human shoulders ever executed a higher shrug than the pair belonging to our Canadian.

“Honestly, sir,” he told me. “You and your Captain Nemo, I pity you both!”

“But we will go to the pole, Mr. Land.”

“Maybe, but you won’t come back!”

And Ned Land reentered his cabin, “to keep from doing something desperate,” he said as he left me.

Meanwhile preparations for this daring attempt were getting under way. The Nautilus’s powerful pumps forced air down into the tanks and stored it under high pressure. Near four o’clock Captain Nemo informed me that the platform hatches were about to be closed. I took a last look at the dense Ice Bank we were going to conquer. The weather was fair, the skies reasonably clear, the cold quite brisk, namely –12° centigrade; but after the wind had lulled, this temperature didn’t seem too unbearable.

Equipped with picks, some ten men climbed onto the Nautilus’s sides and cracked loose the ice around the ship’s lower plating, which was soon set free. This operation was swiftly executed because the fresh ice was still thin. We all reentered the interior. The main ballast tanks were filled with the water that hadn’t yet congealed at our line of flotation. The Nautilus submerged without delay.

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